CDC Says Being Underweight or Obese are Risk Factors for COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study Monday which concludes that both underweight and obese people with COVID-19 are more susceptible to hospitalization and death than people with a normal weight.

The study accounted for 148,494 US adults who received a COVID-19 diagnosis during an emergency or inpatient visit at 238 hospitals from March to December 2020. 50.8 percent of these adults were obese and another 28.3 percent were overweight, totaling 79.1 percent of all subjects. Another 1.8 percent were underweight.

Out of the 148,494 adults in the study, 48.1 percent (71,491) required hospitalization. Out of those 71,491, 48.8 percent needed treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU), 13.3 percent required “invasive mechanical ventilation,” and 11.7 percent died. The CDC considered obesity to be a risk factor for both hospitalization and death, while simply being overweight (having a BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2) or obese was a risk factor for ventilation.

The CDC’s study also discovered that COVID-19 patients who were underweight (BMI less than 18.5 kg/m2) had a 20 percent higher risk of hospitalization than those with a healthy weight. Underweight people below the age of 65 were 41 percent more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people with a healthy weight, while underweight people above 65 were seven percent more likely.

Although they noted five limitations to their study, the CDC felt confident to conclude that the “relationship between higher BMI and severe COVID-19–associated illness […] underscore[s] the need for progressively intensive illness management as obesity severity increases.”

Continued strategies are needed to ensure community access to nutrition and physical activity opportunities that promote and support a healthy BMI. Preventing COVID-19 in adults with higher BMIs and their close contacts remains important and includes multifaceted protection measures such as masking, as well as continued vaccine prioritization and outreach for this population,” they added.

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